The Oldest Fern

This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Bridget Laue 2 years, 1 month ago.

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    Bridget Laue

    The Todea barbara at Ascog Fernery on the Isle of Bute is thought to be 1000 years old. So that could make it the oldest cultivated fern in Britain, or even in Europe. Does anyone know of any older ferns?


    Tim Pyner

    Hi Bridget
    Do you know when it was planted at Ascog? I presume in the 19th century. Also who first estimated that it was 1000 years old. I have seen this statement before and thought it was very nice round number. I am not sure how a fern such as this can accurately aged. It would be interesting to compare recent pictures with photos from the original planting date (if they exist).

    It is a very impressive fern whatever its age.




    another ‘old’ Todea barbara is in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Reputed to be over 400 years old…. but again i wonder how they know.

    I think that there might be some very old wild specimens of Osmunda regalis (also in Ireland). Some of the clumps and rhizomes are massive. What might limit the age is the occurrence of bog fires, but then again I have seen some resprout after being burnt.

    However, my bet on the oldest fern in Europe will be on a patch of Pteridium. See this paper for an example and also methods for age estimation:



    Bridget Laue

    Hello Brian

    Yes, I think the feeling is that we can only compare ‘cultivated’ ferns. As you mention, ferns the propagate vegetatively would be impossible to estimate.


    Bridget Laue

    The best I can find to answer your question is that Ascog house and fernery were begun in 1844. The Gardener’s Chronicle reported in 1879 that the Todea, a native of Australia, was ‘a thousand years old or more’.

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The website of the British Pteridological Society